Blast from the ’90s

Gin Blossoms guitarist, Jesse Valenzuela, talks cake, rituals and ESP

Their chart-topping hits “Hey Jealousy” and “Follow You Down” were the soundtrack to the ’90s, and this week, Gin Blossoms is headlining a free concert at The Boardwalk on Friday, August 5. On the eve of their performance, GT spoke with Jesse Valenzuela, guitarist for the Arizona-based rock outfit, about the band’s latest album, gridlock on the 405 freeway, chocolate cake, pre-show rituals, psychic powers, and more …

GOOD TIMES: I love the new album title, No Chocolate Cake,  and the album cover (a woman holds a slice of cake behind her back)—can you explain the concept and its significance?

JESSE VALENZUELA: I think it might be too literal, although I think it’s kind of cute. The chocolate cake is sort of rock ’n’ roll gibberish; at some point, you can’t always get what you want—The Stones said it best.

Several of your lyrics on No Chocolate Cake and previous albums refer to dreaming, make-believing and longing—a sort of wistful tone. Do you guys consider yourselves “hopeless romantics”?

Jesse: “Sure, of course. J. D. Souther is one of my favorite songwriters—look up his new record—he used to write for The Eagles, and his lyrics say, “hopeless romantics, here we go again …” I love wistful stuff.”

Any pre-show rituals, or rituals on the road?

Jesse: We’re like Dominican ball players—lots of rituals. Right before the show, the band looks at each other and says, “let’s get this over with.” I also do a dance called “the crab” that the guys like, and we check each other’s flies before we go on stage.

Are you guys part-time psychics? “Dead Or Alive on the 405” seems to have foreshadowed the recent Carmageddon that happened in Los Angeles.

Jesse: It’s funny because I felt that way too! I was on the road when Carmageddon was happening, and many radio stations played it during the event. That’s a great song—I love the horns and the sentiment. It’s based on a true story about trying to make it from the valley to Redondo Beach.

Any album or artist constantly on repeat right now? What do you appreciate about this music in particular?

Jesse: An Irish guy, Dap Kennedy. I’m really loving his music—his songs are really beautiful with that wistful quality. He’s not afraid to be kind-hearted … I’ve had enough of anger.

Which band/musician would you love to tour with? It can be an artist who’s alive or long gone.

Jesse: Nat King Cole—I love him. When my son was a baby, we’d play Nat King Cole for him all the time. Also Nick Lowe, an Englishman touring with Wilco.

You guys do a great cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” which you perform frequently at shows. What other kind of music do you guys like to cover?

Jesse: Right now we’re working on an Eddie Money song. “Gimme my Eddie Money” are even lyrics on “Dead or Alive on the 405.”

What are your sources of inspiration when it comes to songwriting?

Jesse: I listen to the new Bob Dylan, starting with Time Out of Mind. I can listen to those, some soul records, and Nick Lowe records—anything slow or mournful that gets that wordplay in your head excited, and makes you pick up a guitar and take notes.

What can the audience expect to happen at this week’s Gin Blossoms show?

Jesse: At the Santa Cruz show? Probably a little nudity—tasteful, because it’s a family show. We’ll play the hits, no violence or anything, and we’ll drink sodas and eat hotdogs.

INFO: 6:30 & 8:30 p.m. Friday, August 5. Beach Boardwalk, 400 Beach St., Santa Cruz. No Cover. 423-5590.

Jesse Valenzuela’s solo album single, “Blue Town”—which he describes as “a collective record of acoustic and blues, that’s both sad and eclectic”—hits iTunes next week.
Photo Credit: Angela Oneil

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